A teacher punished over evolution?

Was a North Carolina middle school science teacher unjustly treated when she was reassigned to a different job after a complaint about her presentation of evolution in the classroom? That is the question at issue in a lawsuit originally filed in 2007.

In early 2005, the parents of a girl in Pamela Hensley's eighth-grade science class alleged that Hensley gave their daughter a low grade in retaliation for her comments during the class discussion on evolution, complaining that she was "antagonistic and rude when her beliefs are challenged by true 'Christian' students." After investigating, the principal concluded that there was no retaliation. According to Hensley, however, the parents lobbied the district to force her to apologize, to transfer her, and to revise its curriculum to "include a religious view of the teaching of science."

Hensley was eventually asked by the school district to sign a letter of apology; regarding it as containing false statements as originally drafted, she refused. She was then transferred, mid-year, to a different position in the district. She was told that the incident "remains a source of tension and distraction within the school system, and it has diminished your credibility at North Johnston Middle School." The new position was a remedial language arts position, which Hensley contends is a "make-work position" and not suitable for her in light of a congenital hearing problem.

In 2007, Hensley filed a complaint in the Johnson County Superior Court, subsequently removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, alleging that the district's actions violated her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, the North Carolina Constitution, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans With Disabilities Act. On December 23, 2010, the court dismissed (PDF) all of Hensley's claims except for her Americans With Disabilities Act claim.

There is presently no indication in the court documents whether Hensley is going to continue with the case or not. Selected documents from the case, Hensley v. Johnston County Board of Education, are available on NCSE's website.

Revised on January 4, 2011, to use the correct term for the court's December 23, 2010, order: it was a dismissal, not a summary judgment.